I will toot my own horn and say that last year's success was not a surprise to me and that I predicted a good season for the Nittany Lions when discussing this with people at my real job. They didn't believe me, but I got props at the end of the season. So what's my prediction for 2013? Let's take a look:
8/31 Syracuse (East Rutherford, NJ): Doug Marrone left the Orange to coach the Buffalo Bills, so the Lions can face a team with a first-year head coach in Scott Shafer. Syracuse also lost Ryan Nassib and will look for someone else to fill the starting QB role. Although this could be a tough game, Penn State has the edge with Bill O'Brien being in his second year.
9/7 Eastern Michigan: Look up "whipping boy" in the dictionary, and you're sure to see Eastern as the definition. Ron English hasn't had the success in Ypsilanti that some of us had hoped, and he really needs to get things going before becoming a defensive coordinator at another school. English is just 10-38 heading into his fifth season. He's a good guy, but "good guy" just isn't translating to on-field success. PSU wins big. Eagles fans may want to hit Corner Brewery before this one is over.
9/14 Central Florida: UCF quarterback Blake Bortels had a pretty darn good 2012, throwing for 3,059 yards, 25 TDs, and seven INTs. This could be like last year's Ohio game for the Nittany Lions.
9/21 Kent State: There is still some talent on this Golden Flashes team; talent that could possibly cause some issues for Penn State. Dri Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He also caught four TDs and returned three kick-offs for TDs. Trayion Durham also rushed for over 1,000 yards and had 14 touchdowns.
10/5 @ Indiana: This is the first true road game of the year for PSU, but they shouldn't really have any problems with the Hoosiers. With the yet-to-be-felt penalties for PSU, don't be surprised if Indiana grows a pair and decides that maybe they really can play with the big boys and tries to knock 'em down a peg a little early.
10/12 Michigan: When Penn State joined the conference in '93, I was scared out of my mind that they would run rough-shod all over the B1G...specifically Michigan. However, the Wolverines are 10-6 against the Nittany Lions. This game being in Happy Valley does cause some concern, though. The road has been a tough place for Michigan in recent years, and Beaver Stadium is one of the toughest. With a pretty decent Michigan defense, Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson could have a tough first game against Michigan.
10/26 @ Ohio State: I don't want to reveal too much about Ohio State's schedule, but it's pretty safe to assume that they will be darn good again this year. Are they undefeated good? We'll see. But, they'll certainly take care of the Nittany Lions at home.
11/2 Illinois: G'uh!
11/9 @ Minnesota: This could be the biggest surprise on Minnesota's schedule. The Gophers beating Penn State isn't unprecedented.
11/16 Purdue: Even with an experienced guy in the QB ranks for the Boilers, this team is still technically in a rebuilding mode and will struggle against the Lions.
11/23 Nebraska: Look for big things out of Nebraska during this match-up. Taylor Martinez ran for just over 100 yards last year, while Ameer Abdullah added another 116. Imani Cross added two touchdown, albeit in short-yardage/goal line situations. The Huskers had to come from behind to with this one at home last year. Again, Penn State's youth at the QB position bodes well for a Nebraska victory on the road.
11/30 @ Wisconsin: Penn State running back Zach Zwinak rushed for a career-high 179 yards last year, but Matt McGloin had only nine yards more (200) on seven more attempts (19) than Wisconsin QB Curt Phillips (12). The Penn State victory came on a 37-yard FG in OT, so this wasn't a sure thing for the Lions. Penn State lost 45-7 the last time they came to Madison; the inexperience at the quarterback position could prove fatal in Camp Randall.
A 7-5 or 8-4 season is realistic for this team; no more than nine wins. They have some key games at home, but this schedule could be described as fragile. One thing the Nittany Lions have going for them is O'Brien's ability to do some very good things with quarterbacks. But, even with an experienced O-line and prodigious talent at the QB spot, it's going to be a tall order to have them winning the key games right away. The thing that really works against the Lions is the thing that works for them. It's only a matter of time before Bill O'Brien bolts for the NFL. As long as he's in Happy Valley, Penn State could be okay. They are still a brand that very good athletes want to play for, even though the penalties will surely be felt. However, once O'Brien leaves the slide will be precipitous.